Creativity and Underachievement

“Why won’t my students be more creative?”

“Why does my avid sketcher at home constantly draw, but never produces at school?”

“How can I motivate my student to produce work and be productive in school?”

When we look at encouraging creativity in the classroom or even at home with our gifted students we have to consider how often we are actually fostering creativity in the classroom in a positive way. Creativity creates a vulnerability for students. It opens them up to criticism and more often than not, criticism is what happens when students try to be creative in their work.

There are two types of creativity environments:

  • Friendly: creativity welcomed and valued, emotionally safe, high autonomy, welcoming and pleasing aesthetic
  • Hostile: incompetent, judged, law autonomy, competition

It’s on a continuum.

We all have a different lens through which we see things and do things. The lens of motivation, in particular, varies the most. This is the lens allowing us to initiate, continue, and complete tasks.

This is different than Power. Motivation is internal.

Parents and Teachers often state the missing element is motivation or the students are lazy. When looking further into motivation, it has been found that motivation is easy on things they enjoy- if they find it personally meaningful they find the motivation to complete the goal. They tend to only work on a task for a grade, if they found that it was valuable to keep a certain grade or better their grade. Even then, it is hard to motivate students with a grade or hurting their GPA.

Well, we say, “Everyone has to do things they don’t like.” While this may be true, we have to remember when we say this to our students (gifted or not) they feel high levels of helplessness. They don’t believe that they can do it- they then deflect. They lower their performance to make the failure hurt less. This fear of failure compounds and adds to the helplessness of being able to complete tasks they aren’t motivated to do.

Relationships play a huge role in this. There is a power imbalance when it comes to creating the “right goals”. If adults admit the work has no value it devalues the student themselves, “You don’t matter, but your compliance does.” I see this specifically with Advanced Learning Plan goals we ask our students to set. If the goals aren’t meaningful to the student, and there is the follow up on those goals, why should they bother to care about them?

We really need to work on a few things with our students who are creative and underachieving in school settings:

  1. Student sense of self
  2. Understanding the difference between permanent and changing self
    • They shift memory and think that school doesn’t belong at home
  3. Shifting self from context to context
    • Context Variable self- we tend to be better about this as adults, but as an adolescent, they are still learning this. “Different card, different context”
    • The “Real Me”- occulance and how it relates to your life if you can’t connect it to the context in your life it has no use so you don’t pay attention to you. We cannot use or remember the information if we don’t understand it’s importance. Which leads to-
    • Annihilation of Self- failing to be drawn into the world. Students will pay attention to the wrong things or fail to pay attention at all and then try to “fit” what they were paying attention to into the wrong context.
  4. Lens of power
  5. Social power: falls on a continuum from hard power to soft power. The target of the power feels little freedom when it comes to hard power (“I am your parent/teacher so you will do this.”)
    • Soft power types: building a sense of connection.
    • Hard power: forceful and negative consequences
  6. Power of rewards: There are systems used often but not successful as they get older.
  7. Power of Reactance sometimes lowers their ability to find the motivation to do the work. “Push me, I am going to push back harder”
  8. Underachievement as power: student felt little value. It became a way to control the power by underachieving.

So what can you do to help?

  • Relationships are so important not only for students but for parents too. Parent support groups about underachievement are extremely beneficial in order to help parents feel like they are not alone in the struggles they are having with their child in school and at home. I would encourage parents to connect with parents of gifted children so they can have support from others in the trenches.
  • Communication within the family themselves is crucial. Make sure there are open lines of communication between all family members involved in the child’s education. The key with this is making sure parents are not attacking the student, but rather talking things out with the student in regards to the issues happening in a particular class. Hear them out. Listen to understand what is happening, not to fix right away.
  • Review of grading practices- grade are an issue. Dialog about grading practice-with the teacher and the student- how do practices impact the teachers and the students? What do we want our grade to reflect?

Resources: Presentation from the 2018 CAG by Jennie Mizrahi, EDD

Teaching gifted students- no, it doesn’t mean more work.

While working on my bachelors degree and minoring in special education, I read three short paragraphs about gifted education in a book and wanted to know more. So, naturally I asked the professor of the class, “What else can you tell me about gifted education?” Her response was, “You have to go and get a masters degree if you want to know more about that.” So that is exactly what I did.

Many teachers are required to take several special education classes in college; however, none of them deal with gifted education. There is a major focus and push in most educational colleges for there to be a thorough understanding of special education, individualized education plans, and teacher responsibility in order to prevent parents from taking schools to court for violating IDEA. While this is good and necessary to protect all involved in the education of a student with special needs, there is not enough emphasis put on the needs of our gifted students in undergraduate programs.

Gifted education is a branch of special education; however, the right of these students and parents is limited state to state. In the state of Colorado, gifted education services are full mandated but only partially funded. So what does this mean? It means that my students should receive services and differentiated instruction in the classroom but with limited resources it’s nearly impossible to make sure my gifted students are pushed past the ceiling the general classroom teacher is expected to have her students meet.

So how can a general classroom education teacher help? What can they do with limited support? Here are some of the top things teachers can easily do with a little bit of planning and coaching from their GT Specialist:

  1. Allow the student differentiate the project or assignment
    1. Getting the student’s input is huge because they probably have an idea of how they could take a step further to be more challenging (not more work)
  2. Create tiered assignments
    1. Have several levels of difficulty for your whole class and allow them to choose the assignment they feel like would push their higher level thinking skills.
  3. Work with a GT Specialist to differentiate group projects to help break the ceiling effect
    1. Specialists in GT are willing and more than happy to help you figure out what would challenge your students thinking. All you have to do is ask! (Plus it’s kind of their job.)
  4. Don’t be afraid to challenge your whole class.
    1. I was a Language Arts teacher before becoming a GT Specialist, and I used to create assignments that challenged all of my students. I made three levels of assignments or projects, but the catch was the “lowest” assignment would be considered your average assignment. My lower level student would often choose this level, but remained challenging.
  5. Offer to help students find the resources for projects or encourage them to think outside the box for assignments.
    1. GT students don’t fit a box. They like to break that box and create a triangle. Let them. When you let them break that box show encouragement and trust in them that they can complete the project.